Focus: Mixed reviews for changes to popular program

Immigration lawyers have given a mixed reception to the federal government’s revamp of one of its most popular immigration programs.

The government introduced a new overall cap to the five-year-old Canadian experience class in November that limits the number of applications to 12,000 per processing year. The move also included sub-caps for entry under certain occupation categories.

Toronto lawyer Lainie Appleby, a partner with Guberman Garson Immigration Lawyers, says the changes needlessly complicate a previously straightforward program.

“I think the [Canadian experience class] was a great program because it encouraged people getting Canadian experience to stay here, but it’s a challenge these days,” she says.

“I think all the studies indicate that it’s the foreign workers who have Canadian experience in their back pocket that end up doing the best at establishing themselves here and contributing to the economy. I can’t figure out the policy rationale behind limiting these people that make ideal immigrants.”

Before the most recent changes, Appleby says the Canadian experience class was her firm’s “go-to program” for eligible immigrants seeking permanent residence because of its relative simplicity. The program is open to foreign skilled workers employed in Canada in jobs under national occupational classification skill levels A, B, and 0. Applicants must have at least 12 months of full-time work experience during the last three years and be able to demonstrate proficiency in English or French. International students who complete at least two years of post-secondary education in Canada can also qualify for the Canadian experience class with one year of post-graduation employment in a level A, B or 0 job.

“We liked it because it’s a pass-fail system. There’s no real discretionary element that you get in other programs and the processing times tend to be much quicker, too,” says Appleby.

Sergio Karas, a program co-ordinator for the Ontario Bar Association’s citizenship and immigration law section, says clients of his at large multinational employers have made significant use of the Canadian experience class.

“When there’s any kind of interest by an employer to keep an employee on a permanent basis, I suggest that the employee applies under the [Canadian experience class] as soon as they meet that required 52-week work period. It’s the simplest, easiest, and least costly way for an applicant already in Canada working or studying to get permanent residence,” he says.

Since its creation in 2008, more than 25,000 applicants have gained permanent residence through the Canadian experience class with the government expecting another 15,000 admissions in 2014 alone. Blaney McMurtry LLP partner Henry Chang believes it’s the very popularity of the program that has prompted the government to step in with caps.

“It was a bit too popular, especially with skill level B occupations,” says Chang.

In addition to the overall cap of 12,000 applications in the processing year, sub-caps of 200 will apply to each occupation under skill level B, which covers technical jobs and skilled trades such as electricians and plumbers. Six level B occupations will no longer be eligible at all for the program: cooks, food service supervisors, administrative officers, administrative assistants, accounting technicians and bookkeepers, and retail sales supervisors. The sub-caps won’t apply to level A, which covers professional jobs, or level 0, which includes management positions.

“The government is taking concrete action to reduce backlogs and processing times. By making these changes to the Canadian experience class, we are moving towards a more effective and efficient immigration system,” said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander in a statement announcing the caps.

Appleby says the sub-caps have sparked a scramble by applicants in the most popular level B occupations.

“The general feeling is the sooner you can get clients’ applications in under the [Canadian experience class], the less likely they are to be affected by the cap,” she says.

But for some, the changes will mean they have to start looking elsewhere altogether for a route to permanent residence, according to Chang.

“Many skill level B applicants will not be able to apply under the [Canadian experience class] and will need to consider other options,” he says.

“The most likely option for these individuals will probably be the provincial nominee programs that offer a skilled worker stream. However, the skilled worker [provincial nominee program] streams require a sponsoring Canadian employer, so if they can’t get their employer to sponsor them, this option will not be available.”

Karas says he welcomes the new sub-caps and exclusions. By prioritizing applicants in the higher skilled and more in-demand occupations, the changes give preference to those who will bring the most value to the Canadian economy, he says. Other immigration classes could also be in for changes of their own if that trend continues, he suggests.

“I think this change should send a very big warning sign to the family class because that is the least productive class in terms of the economy,” says Karas.

“We live in very different times right now and we need to recognize that needs and demographics have changed in Canada. We cannot afford to spend processing resources on bringing people here who won’t join the labour force anymore.”

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